By DAVID DOW BENTLEY III “The People’s Critic”
[All Photos by Melissa Taylor. Click any photo to enlarge.]
Regular readers of this column may recall that when it comes to reviewing productions of the longtime Broadway hit musical, MAMMA MIA!, “this is not my first rodeo.” (To borrow a timely phrase during this current special three weeks in Houston.) In fact, I think I have figured out the every-four-years frequency formula that Houston’s Hobby Center may be using to schedule repeat productions of this ever-popular musical. During this decade alone I have reviewed the show there in 2011, 2015, and now, 2019, with sell-out crowds continuing to fill the colossal house for each performance at Sarofim Hall. Before I start raving about this wonderful Theatre Under the Stars production, allow me one complaint. The printed program was a peculiar one as it did not have the usual chronological listing of the scenes including associated songs and singers for each. That mistake should not be repeated.
On a happier note, even if the show is not a theatrical masterpiece it doesn’t matter, since the fans keep flocking back because of its infectious music, and because it is just so much colorful fun. That is especially true in this sharply directed production from Dan Knechtges. The warm, coastal Mediterranean villa set design from Tim Mackabee has a three-dimensional look with even moving windmills and wind-blown laundry visible on the background hilltops.
Electrifying and colorful costumes from Leon Dobkowski are the perfect match for the excitement of the splendid choreography from Jessica Hartman, which features not only the wonderful dancing of the talented ensemble, but also a sensational “Teen Ensemble” of local youngsters, who have the dance energy and athleticism that might one day land them on Broadway.
With its breezy book by Catherine Johnson, the plot is designed around the popular songs of the band, ABBA, with Music & Lyrics composed by two former members of that group, Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus. (With additional material and arrangements by Martin Koch). The music is in good hands here, with Steven W. Jones as Musical Director, and the fine orchestra in a subterranean world hidden beneath the stage. Ensemble singing from the cast is top notch.
The unlikely, but fun-filled plot revolves around a single mother named Donna (Sally Wilfert), and her daughter, Sophie (Berklea Going), who live on the lovely Greek Island of Calicos where Donna operates a taverna guest house. Miss Wilfert and Miss Going both have beautiful voices, and their tender bedroom scene on the morning of the wedding is beautifully played.
Twenty year-old Sophie opens the show with a mystical, “I Have a Dream,” as she is about to be married to her beloved Sky (Karl Josef Co), and longs to know which of the three men that her mother had brief romances with years before could, in fact, be her real father. In hopes of solving that mystery she has secretly invited all three to the wedding.
When the guys arrive (Mark Price as Harry, Steven Bogard as Bill, and Matthew Scott as Sam), the real fun begins, and these fellas all have great voices, especially Mr. Scott. Adding to the merriment is the arrival of Donna’s feisty old girlfriends, Tanya (Felicia Finley), and Rosie (Carla Woods).
Both Finley and Woods have some super-sexy numbers, and the guys in the cast do their part to turn up that heat, particularly the very buff Christopher Tipps, who sports a physique that seems to fully justify his being shirtless much of the time. In addition to “Mamma Mia,” the hit parade of ever popular songs that stitch this all together seems to be endless with tunes like, “Chiquitita,” “Dancing Queen,” “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme,” “Honey, Honey,” “I Do, I Do, I Do,” “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” “Money, Money, Money,” “S.O.S.,” “Souper Trouper,” and countless others.
And at show’s end, don’t you dare make a move toward the exits before Donna and the Dynamos hit the stage for a full-cast, multi-encore finale that has the whole audience on its feet. But maybe two other songs should be mentioned in closing: “Thank You for the Music,” and “The Winner Takes It All.” Clearly, this show is a winner!
MAMMA MIA! Continues through March 3rd at Houston’s Hobby Center main stage with performances Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday & Saturday at 8pm, and 2pm matinee performances on both Saturday and Sunday. For tickets visit the website at http://www.thehobbycenter.org, or call (713) 558-8887 locally, and (888) 558-3882 (outside of Houston).
A member of both The Lambs Club Inc. and The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), the columns of DAVID DOW BENTLEY III have appeared on Broadway websites, in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast, and may be viewed online at the website: www.ThePeoplesCritic.com . E-mail may be directed to ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com.